Authors: John O'Brien
The fact that the night runners are staying away from the camp may be both a benefit and a danger to us.
The benefit is that we may still be able to conduct a night operation against the compound.
However, if there are still a lot of night runners in the area, they may be venturing out into the country for food which means possibly out our way.
The fact that there is some loitering in the shadows on the edge of the light may make that a danger zone if we try to infiltrate through that area.
I’ll have to see what happens on subsequent nights as a one-time thing doesn’t mean a pattern.
The night runners coming close to the camp may just be an out-of-the-ordinary event.
We listen to the radios as the towers check in seemingly every hour on the hour.
The only exception to this pattern of radio calls is when one of the towers reports the sighting and shooting.
I turn it over to the night shift and head into the back to rest.
My headache has returned but is only a light throbbing.
I lay back but rest doesn’t come easy due to my anxiety and the night passes with only restless bouts of sleep.
By morning, my headache has diminished and the faint glow of the dawn appears in the eastern sky.
My back is sore from sleeping on the hard metal of the Humvee.
I’m way too old for this
, I think making sure the area is clear and slowly exit.
I work the kinks out as the sun begins to crest the mountains sending rays of light streaming through the gaps in the trees.
Wisps of mist rise from the plants and forest floor where the light strikes.
Summer is ending and fall is near.
I check in with the night shift to find they really have nothing out of the ordinary to report.
The pattern of check-in calls from the towers holds to form and there is no report of additional night runner sightings.
They did hear faint shrieks throughout the night but nothing emerged within their range of visibility.
I grab a quick bite and down it with a swig of water.
Throwing the tarp over the vehicle once again, I head with Greg over to our previous observation point, settling onto the ground.
The chill of the ground seeps through my shirt causing an occasional shiver to run up my spine.
With the coming of the sun, we observe people being guided into the old lunch room.
The pattern of the morning resembles the events of last evening except in an almost reverse order.
Lunch room, gym, and then they are herded onto buses.
The buses exit through the gate and disappear eastward.
I don’t see any of the kids or Gonzalez boarding the vehicles which adds to my worry.
If I could at least see them, I would know they were alright.
Others are brought outside into the fields in the same manner as last night.
Peering through the magnified lens of the binoculars, I see Robert, in black shirts and pants, gathered with others in the open field by the gym.
Taking another look, I see Bri, Michelle, and Gonzalez.
My anxiety is relieved to a great degree seeing them whole and what I assume to be okay.
Robert walks with a limp when they move around and Gonzalez rubs her shoulder and head from time to time.
A guard heads over to their group and, after what I assume is a discussion of some sort, they separate.
The sight makes me want to head down right now and get them but sanity prevails.
At least I know they are alive.
I watch as they are led back into the buildings after about an hour outside.
“I’m going back to get some rest.
Looks like I may be a little busy tonight,” I say to Greg lying by my side.
“Planning a little excursion are we?”
Greg asks setting his binoculars down and looking my way.
“Perhaps,” I answer.
“Want some company?”
“Nah, I’ll be fine.
Besides, I need you here just in case,” I reply.
“Lynn’s going to piss herself when she finds out,” he says with a little chuckle.
“She’ll only find out if someone tells her,” I respond.
“Well, if you don’t make it back, she’s gonna kinda know,” he states.
“If that happens, then I won’t have to worry about it,” I say mimicking his laugh.
“I’m not going to do anything rash.
I just want to get a look and see what their setup is inside.”
“Yeah, heading inside an armed camp alone and venturing into possibly secured buildings isn’t doing anything rash,” Greg says turning back to his binoculars.
“Just kidding by the way.
I totally get it.”
“What about the night runners?”
He asks turning back to me once again.
“Well, I figure I’ll edge up to the tree line to the west just on the edge of the demarcation area of the lights at dusk and wait for dark before moving in.
I’m hoping there won’t be any activity that close.
If they show up and they aren’t too great in numbers, I’ll hopefully be able to take care of them.
If there are too many, I’ll head into the lights and hope the guards help out.
Then you’ll be rescuing five instead of four,” I answer, still wary of my plan.
“Thought this one through all the way, have you?”
He asks rhetorically with another laugh.
“Maybe not so much,” I answer with a quiet laugh.
I pat him on the shoulder and tell him I’ll send someone to take my place.
Greg nods and I crawl backwards until my silhouette won’t be seen from below.
The closest Humvee is just behind and I send another Echo Team member up to Greg.
Before lying down on the ground warmed by the sun reaching through the trees, I gather items I’ll need for my evening excursion.
Besides ensuring my mags are loaded with ammo and dumping the shell in the chamber – night moisture and cold can warp the round inside the chamber – I stack my night vision goggles, a fiberscope, a chemical spray designed for breaching fences, and a few scraps of metal wire.
I also gather some of the scent eliminator gathered from Cabela’s.
I won’t be able to make a fire to eliminate my odor here so it will have to do.
With my things for the evening gathered, I stretch out on the soft fir needles of the forest floor.
My mind does its normal pre-operation thought patterns of visualizing scenarios that I will likely encounter and my reaction to them; or how to avoid them altogether.
A ray of sun slanting through a gap in the trees strikes my face.
My eyes are closed but I feel the warmth.
With thoughts racing through my mind, I can also hear the occasional movement of the team members and forest creatures around.
A “cawing” of a crow, most likely resting on one of the branches close by, echoes throughout our little hideout.
An infrequent, quiet burst from the radios, as someone from the camp or fields makes a call, intrudes on the stillness of this late summer day.
As the day slowly passes, I drift in and out of sleep or actually more of a deep form of relaxation.
The area is quiet and has the feel of a slow, lazy day.
I could just soak up the warmth if it were any other situation.
I still feel the knot in my stomach making me restless.
I want to do something just to ease some of the tension and make the day go by faster but I know that resting, even if I don’t get a lot of sleep, is for the best.
The shadows of the trees and power line structures slowly transit across the ground as the sun moves across the blue sky and eventually fall to the east.
I rise and brush the dirt and needles off.
It will take me a couple of hours to make my way down to the tree line.
Moving slowly and in the deepest cover I can find will help keep me from being spotted.
Plus, I want to give myself some additional time.
We haven’t spotted patrols heading out from the camp but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.
The only thing we observed leaving the compound, besides the buses, is the red truck heading out of the gate just after everyone was shepherded back in.
Arriving too early will also increase my chances of being spotted so I may have to lie up a short distance away and wait for dusk.
I am eager to be off and I gather my gear.
I already notified the team members of my plan which they seemed to take in stride.
I edge up to Greg to see if anything of interest transpired while I was resting.
“Nothing much,” he answers.
“The group came out again around noon and went back in an hour later.
Other than that, it’s been pretty quiet.”
“Okay, I’m off.
I’ll be back a little after dawn,” I tell him.
“I want to be out of the camp prior to dawn and lay up again until the sun breaks.”
“Sounds good, Jack, we’ll be waiting for you.
Give a ring if you need any help and good luck,” he says.
Giving a last minute check, I head off to the north.
I don’t want to head toward the camp directly from our position so I plan to circle around to the north.
I’ll then cut over to the spot I identified on the west side of the fence.
This will take me north of the Wal-Mart and enable me to circumvent it.
The greatest risk will be crossing the highway as it is wide open at that point.
I’ll have to see what it’s like when I get there and may have to lie up and cross close to dusk.
The sun will be in anyone’s eyes looking out from the camp so that is in my favor.
I walk slowly to the north keeping just below the hilltop.
The air is still beneath the tall trees.
It isn’t old growth timber but they do stretch a ways toward the blue sky peeking through the tops.
The silence is encompassing.
An occasional flurry of activity, as something scampers through the brush at my approach, is all that accompanies me.
The smell of the firs and cedars releasing their scents reminds me of my love of the woods and outdoors.
The ground is dry so I take care of my footfalls in order not to snap branches under my boots.
The hill ends and begins a descent towards flatter land on the same level with the camp and surrounding area.
Beginning my descent, one of the team members on guard waves from behind a tree where he is keeping watch on the dirt road further up from our camp.
I wave back and continue down the hill.
Passing the outpost, I slow and begin to take my time on the descent.
I move a few yards and pause, listening and watching the surrounding area for any sound or movement.
The sun heads further down toward the horizon to my left.
The warmth it sent down during the day is trapped beneath the trees causing beads of sweat to form on my brow and trickle down.
Near me, a couple of birds flit from branch to branch as if following or leading me; they wait until I am adjacent to them and then take off to the next branch a few trees ahead.
I am sure they are trying to lead me away from their nest but it’s nice to think they are just keeping me company.
I see the dirt road following the power lines through occasional gaps in the trees and then it disappears altogether as it and I take different paths.
I arrive at a point I think is adjacent to where I want to be and start a zigzag path keeping in the general direction of the camp.
This allows me to pause at each turn and observe my back trail.
If I had others with me, the last person would erase the signs of our passing.
Solo, it would divert my attention from observing as I move and it would take forever to reach my location.
I come across a few game trails but nothing anyone has used.
No tracks or sign of passage so I’m reasonably sure the people from the camp don’t come out this way but if they hunt during the day for game, anything is possible.
The trees thin and I see clear sunlight where they end just prior to the highway.
I ease up to a position just inside the trees and glass the area to my front on the other side.
It appears much the same as on mine; a stretch of tall grass next to the two-lane highway.
I search for some time looking for movement.
If they are watching this part of the road, they are keeping well-hidden.
It is only a little over three hundred yards to the camp perimeter from here so I decide to wait for the sun to get a little lower in the sky before venturing further.